Walk about oldest streets in KL

IT is a KL Heritage walk to look forward to.

DYING TRADE: A cobbler plying his trade at Petaling Street.

Rakan KL, first launched on Aug 31, 2012, organised its fifth walk this year.

Rakan in Bahasa Malaysia means “friend.” And the organisers and participants could not have been friendlier!

This walk #5 began at Zhing Kong Restaurant and ended at the Chin Woo Stadium at Jalan Hang Jebat. It was definitely not going to be an ordinary walk, conducted by a fast-talking tour guide.

The tour started with those gathered at Zhing Kong Restaurant (famous for its beef noodles) at 10 in the morning.

Victor Chin introduced his “walkers” to Adrian Yeo and Cindy, the “tour guides.”

Adrian, the tour leader, is a young guy who explained the tour with the help of an iPad.

It was amazing how he explained the photos of old KL, sometimes with a humourous albeit Socratic style of questioning.

His iPad photos transported the participants back to the old days in stark contrast to the reality of the present-day development.

Most brought cameras and clicked away, sometimes on their own and very often because of a hint from the tour guides or what another participant had “sighted.”

A good friend of Victor’s is Stevie Wonder, a KL hotelier, a third generation Chinatowner and an avid photographer. His presence added value to the Walk. The others were from the US, Sabah, Sarawak and Penang.

An enthusiastic Lucy Lim who was born near Brickfields, and lives in KL city, was a first-timer.

She had been planning to join the KL walk for some time but because work took her out of KL in the last few months, she was glad that at the last minute, she could join even without signing up.

Interesting stops

The “tour guides” made every stop an interesting one — with lots of tales filled with minute details. Adrian and Victor encouraged the participants to share their personal tales too.

There was a coffeebreak at a nice kopitiam and Victor shared a box of traditional crispy light as air breadfinger biscuits.

In the Ghost Lane, the participants were intrigued by the tales of some of the participants.

Adrian asked: “Why are the backlanes of this width?”

The backlanes in KL were built that wide so that they were “big enough for small lorries to drive through and for the night soil men to render their services in the early morning hours.

Rakan KL Walkabout enabled the participants to meet up with a pair of photographers taking pictures of a model. Watching them working together in the warm morning sun only made one realise how important colours were in our lives!

The model worked hard not only for the photographers but Rakan KL as well. Cameras clicked away. But alas, the group had to move on with the feeling that there was indeed nothing dull about life in the backstreets!

Adrian did not miss the special features like the age of one backlane lamppost. Victor would add more relevant stories and Stevie too could contribute his version.

They were very entertaining history teachers. The whole group enjoyed enormously all the references provided by Rakan KL.

MEETING POINT: Hotel Starlight or Rumah Tumpangan Sing Kwong (the restaurant Zhing Kong) is the meeting point for KL Walk #5.

Danny from Sabah who has been working in KL, said: “I have wanted to join this walk for some time. But since I work most Saturdays, I have missed the last four. I’m glad I can come for this one.”

The participants felt a tinge of sadness as they walked further along the route, noticing many places had already been demolished while some were abandoned. Cranes were working continuously.

Bus station demolished

DISMANTLED: The old Klang Bus Station is no more.

The Old Klang bus station, one of the biggest interchanges in peninsular Malaysia in the 70’s, for example, has been demolished and soon a new structure will sprout.

Public transport in KL in the shape of MRT continues to make its mark in the urban landscape metamorphosis.

A Petaling Street sidewalk convenience store owner of
Indian descent feels threatened. He has come here as a five-year-old and learnt to speak Cantonese.

He has been here for 53 years, selling small items and numerous sundry goods outside an 80-year-old kopitiam, and perhaps with the ever pounding and screeching sounds of moving cranes together with the pressures of city development, he has to pack up his cigarette and newspaper stand and retire!

What would life be for him then? It woul be unimaginable for this friendly man who is part of Chinatown and an everyday fixture in the lives of people who conveniently pick up a copy of newspaper from him.

It would also be sad for those who have exchanged warm greetings of good morning with him all these years if he were to pack up and go, remarked one of the participants.

“It’s like losing a relative who lives next door.”

One of the most exciting parts of the Walk was Jalan Sultan which had been mentioned in the press a great deal. Both locals and tourists know about it but they don’t actually know all the stories behind the history of this magnificent road.

When Adrian and Cindy brought the group to Jalan Sultan, they could feel the excitement the road evoked. Both Adrian and Cindy are so animated and passionate about the history of this road!

Stories of yesteryear

The stories of yore are made of blood, sweat and tears of tin miners, sampan rowers, vegetable growers, satay men and coolies when KL was just a little bazaar.

Different races had congregated at the confluence of Klang and Gombak to create this marvellous heart of Selangor. History, culture and the dynamics of population have created the unique city of Kuala Lumpur which has made its mark in the world.

Near the Chin Woo Stadium, before the walk ended, the Rakan KL Walk #5 also bade farewell to the notable shoplots to be demolished soon.

Tailor Shop

For most of the people, an ordinary testimonial may mean nothing. But to an almost century-old tailor shop at Sultan Street, Kuala Lumpur, all of the testimonials have significant meanings.

Not everyone can receive such testimonials as they are from the fourth Yang Di-Pertuan Agung, Tuanku Ismail Nasiruddin Shah, former Finance Minister Tun Tan Siew Sin, foreign envoys and even the 12th Prime Minister of Australia Sir Robert Gordon Menzies.

Kwong Fook Wing Tailor Shop was founded in 1915 and the business has been passed down to third generation. Just like his grandfather and father, the current owner Kwong Kam Lun insists on making every suit by hand.

The Yan Keng Benevolent Dramatic Association was founded in 1920 and is one of the oldest Chinese opera clubs in Kuala Lumpur. It raises money for charity by staging opera performaces and choral singing. The money is mainly donated to old folks’ homes, hospitals and schools.

The participants will not forget how Victor lovingly showed them the tall parapet, facing Jalan Hang Jebat, with the name of the Association on it, and how he pointed out to them the beautiful classical arches lining the five-footway with that sincere and loving touch.

More tales can be told, more modern stories shared by Rakan KL Walks in the future.

Each little crevice, each little side walk, each little backlane will come to life waiting for you to explore and peel off layers
and layers of history. Be enriched and enthralled. Walk with Rakan KL.

Artist highlights culture and heritage

Victor Chin, who was with the Rakan KL group, is a KL-based artist and photographer and also a member of the Heritage of Malaysia Trust (Badan Warisan) where he contributes water-colour paintings of Malaysian shophouses in states like KL and Penang to highlight the importance of culture and heritage.

Here is a painting of his (see top picture) to remind one of the memorable, beautiful bygone days of KL.

A keepsake like this brings to life a culture of the people (regardless of race, religion and colour) who have been living in this special part of the world for more than three generations.

Sited at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak Rivers, Kuala Lumpur was the commercial centre of the then British-ruled Malaya. Chinese, Malays, Indians congregated here to do business, set up homes and established themselves in the government offices.

Most of the streets in the old business district were built between the two World Wars (1915 and 1945) when Malaya was the world’s largest producer of tin and rubber.

Hopefully, KL landscape will continue to maintain some of its old heritage buildings. They should not just be captured in paintings which are lovingly framed and hung in homes. Most should be preserved as heritage buildings.